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Netzavim-Vayeilech: ‘Perfectly Candid’

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The Gemara continues and explains that even the smallest favor or minuscule gift is considered a bribe that brings with it devastating effects.

With this in mind, how it is possible for a person to repent or “see the light?” Every individual is responsible to judge himself, i.e. he must reckon and determine whether his outlook on life and his actions are on par with his obligations. But it is undeniable that a human being is “bribed” by his own desires, negative character traits, and evil inclinations which propel him towards sin. If the subtlest bribe destroys the rationale of even the greatest judge, what hope is there for us in judging ourselves, when we are drowning in a morass of self-deception?

Rav Yosef Elyashiv[2] answers that logically there should indeed be little hope for our spiritual growth. However, the Torah promises us that if we seek the truth G-d will ensure that we not be overwhelmed in the natural manner by our own negative whims and thoughts. This is what the verse means when it states, “It is not hidden from you and it is not distant”, for truthfully it should be too distant to achieve. However, “The matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it.” Despite our penchants and proclivities, G-d has invested within us a supernatural ability to transcend and overcome our self-deceit.

Our evil inclination not withstanding, we have the ability to become close with G-d and ascertain the truth. However, we can only achieve that if we are willing to struggle to discover it. The first step is to realize our innate deceptions and then pray to G-d to help us overcome them.

At some point during the school year I read the article at the start of this column to my the tenth grade literature class. My students are always very impressed by the article and enjoy its subtle ironic message. I challenge them to explain what makes the article so brilliant? What wily technique does the author use to drive home his message?

We discuss that if the article had begun with the author stating how terrible television was, the message would be lost.  Because we are so bribed by our inclinations and desires, a person who watches television does not want to hear how terrible it is. He goes through life making up excuses as to why “it’s not really so bad.”

But the author immediately launches into the story, capturing the attention and piquing the interest of the reader. By the time the reader has neared the end of the article he has arrived at his own conclusions about the terrible stranger. He cannot help but wonder why the family sanctioned such an awful influence in their home? If the stranger made the parents nervous why did they not ever demand that the stranger leave?

Then in the final line – nay in the final two letters – of the article the entire story makes sense. And at that moment the potent message of the story is undeniable. It is only in retrospect that the reader realizes who the stranger is and by then it is too late to deny the strong negative thoughts and feelings he had for “the stranger.” The author allows the reader to unwittingly draw his own conclusions about the evils of TV.[3]

It is hard for us to be objective when we judge ourselves. But the Torah assures us that it can be done if one is truly candid with himself and is prepared to battle the falsities within him. If one is up to that challenge he can be confident that, with G-d’s help, he can be successful.

Just prior to his demise Moshe tells his beloved student and successor Yehoshua, “Hashem – it is He Who goes before you; He will be with you; He will not release you nor will He forsake you; do not be afraid and do not be dismayed[4].”

Truthfully Moshe related that message to every single Jew for all time. One need only begin the search earnestly and diligently. But once one has rolled up his sleeves and sets a trajectory in motion, he will realize that he is not alone in his quest and efforts.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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